London sporting action goes behind closed doors again

By PA Sport Staff
·3-min read

London’s sports teams are facing up to the prospect of playing their home games behind closed doors once more after the capital was placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions.

West Ham, Arsenal and Fulham will now play their Premier League matches on Wednesday night in empty stadiums, having hoped to have been able to welcome 2,000 fans into their grounds, while the William Hill World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace will be a fan-free event, with the exception of the first day of action on Tuesday.

Only a fortnight ago it was announced that up to 2,000 supporters were allowed into football matches for the first time since March, when London was initially placed in tier two following the second lockdown, but the move into tier three from Wednesday means the return of spectators has been short-lived.

The Hammers hosted 2,000 fans when they played Manchester United at the London Stadium on December 5, but there will be none present to watch the home match against Crystal Palace.

Arsenal said they were “disappointed” they would not be able to welcome fans to the Emirates Stadium for the clash with Southampton, while Fulham said they understood “the frustration and disappointment” of their supporters, some of whom would have been in the stands for the meeting with Brighton.

In fact, the only midweek Premier League fixture which will have a crowd will be the top-of-the-table clash at Anfield, when Liverpool meet Tottenham.

London’s three other Premier League clubs – Tottenham, Chelsea and Crystal Palace – will feel the impact when they play at home this weekend.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard celebrates the recent win over Leeds with the home fans
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard celebrates the recent win over Leeds with the home fans (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA).

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, whose side host West Ham on Monday, said it would be difficult to go back to playing without fans.

“We’ve seen already and felt the backing they give you and what it does to the game,” he said.

“I also think – I’m not telling the Government what to do – that we can control 2,000 fans coming into the stadium if they’re coming from within that tier or however they want to do that to keep things moving along. It’s unfortunate to say the least.”

Indeed, as of Wednesday only Liverpool, Everton, Brighton and Southampton in the top flight will be allowed 2,000 fans, until the restrictions are eased.

QPR and Watford both confirmed that 2,000 fans would still be attending their Sky Bet Championship home games on Tuesday.

The World Darts Championship had planned to have 1,000 spectators in attendance every day, but instead the sport’s biggest event, which is well known for its trademark raucous crowd, will have to be a fan-free zone by Wednesday.

Organisers confirmed the opening night would still go ahead with a crowd and said that, with the Government’s decision subject to review on December 23, “a further announcement in relation to tickets for the post-Christmas action” would be made in due course.

August’s World Snooker Championship had a small crowd for just one day before a tightening of the restrictions forced it back behind closed doors.

Current tournaments are taking place without spectators in Milton Keynes, but it is hoped that the Masters in January, also at Alexandra Palace, can allow 1,000 fans in.